What Makes Chablis So Special?
Posted on September 28 2021
You probably connect the term "Chablis" with those enormous jugs of super-cheap white crap, especially if you're new to wine. You know, the kind that appears to be designed just for your Zombie Outbreak Readiness Kit.
Fortunately, there is a whole other — and much more fascinating — kind of Chablis available. It is, in reality, the O. G. Chablis (those jugs just stole the name), and it is one of the world's most unique white wines.
So, what makes it so unique? After all, chardonnay grapes are used to make Chablis. Shouldn't it at least have some of the taste profile of a Chardonnay varietal wine? Not even a smidge. That's what we like about it.
Chablis is a wine-growing area in Burgundy's northeasternmost section. The wine is called for the site instead of the grape type since the particular flavor of Chablis wines directly results from the region's distinct character. Indeed, Chablis is perhaps one of the finest wines for understanding the idea of "terroir," or how much a winemaker's decisions affect the final flavor of the wine.
So, what are the essential characteristics that distinguish Chablis?
It may seem strange to suggest that Chardonnay contributes to what makes Chablis so unique, given that what distinguishes Chablis is the terroir and winemaking. Yet, all of this is represented via the Chardonnay grape. That is precisely the goal. Chardonnay excels in absorbing — and reflecting — the terrain in which wine is produced; if it weren't sensitive to terroir, none of the elements that contribute to Chablis' distinct taste would be necessary.
Of course, climate affects the taste of every wine, but it's particularly essential — and sometimes disastrous — for Chablis. Because the vineyard is so far north, the grapes develop at a slower rate. Stated, you will have less sun, less sugar, more excellent acidity, and a more petite body. However, the climate is not always favorable to the grape. Spring frosts are a yearly threat, capable of destroying large portions of the year's crop. Winemakers go to great lengths, like installing tiny warming heaters in the vineyards, to attempt to preserve their grapes each year.
Chablis is a part of Burgundy, although it has its soil. There are two types of soil: Kimmeridgian and Portlandia. The Chablis area, you see, is essentially an ancient seabed (150 million years old that's going to produce some flavor). The soil is chalky and minerally, with petrified seashells and pieces of marine skeletons scattered throughout. For this reason, Portlandien soil is used to produce a lighter and creamier Petit Chablis (the lowest in the Chablis hierarchy). Kimmeridgian soil has a higher percentage of clay marl, lime, and marine relics, which is why Chablis produced from it is favored, since the salty, seashell taste finds its way into the bottle, giving Chablis its unique flavor and texture (which, no surprise, pairs incredibly well with fish).
For better or worse, wood is often used in the production of Chardonnay throughout the globe. Chablis, on the other hand, is an entirely different tale. Chablis is nearly usually matured in plastic pipes, which helps to retain some of the minerality while also allowing the fruit flavor to shine through (whereas oak aging may overwhelm a grape's character, as anybody who's tasted flabby, excessively oaked Chardonnay knows all too well). Certain Grand Cru Chablis (the highest point of Chablis classification) may be aged in oak barrels, but mostly part, Chablis is all steel, all of the time, allowing the unique character of the land and climate to show through and produce the Chablis we all know (or kind of know) and adore.